Healthy sleep in old age
Elderly people often suffer from sleep problems. Here we explain how new everyday structures, health problems or the intake of medication affect sleep and what can help to support healthy sleep, especially in old age.
Table of Contents
- That's how much sleep we need in old age
- Sleep in old age
- The most important tips for sleeping in old age
- Sleeping pills in the elderly
1. That's how much sleep we need at age
Sleep changes over the course of life: while small children still sleep up to 17 hours a day, in middle adulthood, 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night are usually sufficient. From the age of about 65 years, the average required sleep duration changes only slightly and is approx. 7 to 8 hours. So the famous “senile bed escape” and that we supposedly sleep less as we get older is basically not entirely true. In addition, the lack of sleep in older people is often compensated for by one or more naps during the day. Nevertheless, with age it usually becomes increasingly difficult to find enough and really restful sleep and so many older people suffer from sleep disorders.
2. Sleep in old age
With the years of life, not only does the individual need for sleep change, but also the living situation, one's own sleeping habits and the personal state of health. New daily structures in retirement age, increased physical or psychological complaints or the intake of medication have a strong influence on the quality of sleep and can prevent an overall healthy sleep as well as a sufficient amount of sleep per night in old age.
Natural changes in sleep structure
In old age, it is particularly important to spend enough time in deep and REM sleep so that physical and psychological regeneration as well as learning and memory formation can take place. Our sleep-wake cycle and our sleep structure are crucially related to the sleep hormone melatonin.
With increasing age, the natural production of melatonin in the body decreases continuously, which means that older people spend less time in deep sleep overall, while light sleep phases increase. This is why, as we get older, we find it harder to fall asleep in the evening, interrupt our sleep more often at night, and wake up more easily in the morning hours. As a result, the quality and duration of sleep are significantly reduced overall and sleep is perceived as superficial or not very restful.
Changed habits, lack of daylight & exercise
Work, free time, family responsibilities - our everyday life also changes as we get older. As we get older, we often get up a little earlier, but only rarely or not at all go to work, hardly do any sport and are generally less active during the day. Due to decreasing mobility, illnesses or a lack of social contacts, older people also go outside less often and therefore spend less time in daylight, which, however, acts as a pacemaker for melatonin production and the sleep-wake cycle. The lack of physical or mental activity, little exercise and the lack of sunlight can therefore promote the development of problems falling asleep and other sleep disorders.
Health problems & taking medication
Diseases and other health conditions have a major impact on whether and how well we can sleep. Widespread diseases such as diabetes, heart failure, breathing difficulties, stomach problems or nocturnal urination can prevent the body and mind from resting in the evening and thus make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you have physical limitations, it can also be difficult to find a relaxed, pain-free sleeping position.
In addition, there is an increased or regular intake of medication that also impairs sleep. Strong antihypertensives, migraine medication, heart or asthma medication and antibiotics can suppress normal sleep functions and disrupt the sleep rhythm.
The psyche and the state of mind
Also our mood and the general state of mind have a great influence on our sleep. Older people often suffer from fears, being overwhelmed, loneliness or other mental stress that promote stress and in this way also disturb peaceful sleep. Too many worries and the merry-go-round of thoughts in the evening or when you are awake at night prevent the relaxation that is so important for sleep, which makes it difficult to fall asleep and disturbs a peaceful night.
3. The most important tips for sleeping in old age
Good sleep hygiene and a healthy sleep rhythm are important prerequisites for finding restful sleep quickly and easily at any age. Here we show you what can help to support a good night’s sleep, especially in later adulthood under the difficult conditions.
#1 Make up for missing sleep
Lack of sleep can be made up for or compensated for to a certain extent. One or more naps a day can usually be easily integrated into everyday life in old age and can help against tiredness and exhaustion during the day. However, the afternoon nap should not last longer than 30 minutes so that we still feel enough sleep pressure in the evening and the development of natural tiredness is not prevented. We have explained here how to take the perfect midday nap.
#2 Keeping physically and mentally active
Anyone who remains physically and mentally active during the day not only promotes general health and well-being, but also improves memory and sleep. Moderate exercise through walks or gymnastic exercises as well as mentally stimulating activities such as reading books, writing or puzzles are well suited to ensure more relaxation and a good mood and thus support the natural tiredness in the evening.
#3 Fresh air, daylight and exercise
As far as their state of health allows, older people should integrate as much time as possible in the fresh air and daylight into everyday life. Especially in connection with a little exercise, the metabolism and circulation are then stimulated and hormone production boosted. Anyone who is no longer mobile should try to sit on the balcony or at the open window for at least some time in order to soak up some daylight and be able to support a healthy sleep rhythm.
4. Sleeping pills in the elderly
In the course of our lives, we develop many routines, especially when it comes to sleep, which have to be adapted to the new living conditions in old age. However, many older people find it difficult to change their habits or to get up and stay active. If the nights are regularly far too short and you don't feel well rested in the morning, you quickly turn to sleeping pills.
Older people should be particularly careful with sleeping pills. The artificially induced fatigue can occur more or less suddenly, increase gait insecurity and the risk of falling and impair brain performance. Strong chemical sleeping pills in particular can also quickly become addictive and interact with other medications to do more harm than help to a healthy sleep. So if you sleep badly despite good sleep hygiene, you should definitely seek medical advice before resorting to sleeping pills.
In late adulthood, the need for sleep changes only slightly, older people become approx. 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night recommended.
Elderly people increasingly suffer from problems falling asleep, difficulties sleeping through the night or other sleep disorders.
The natural decrease in melatonin production, too little exercise, lack of daylight and increased health problems or the use of medication have a negative impact on the duration and quality of sleep in old age.
For a healthy sleep in old age, we should stay physically and mentally active, make up for lost sleep during the day and spend enough time in the daylight.
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